Afghanistan takes on rich, pow­er­ful in war on graft

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - Threats and Pres­sures Im­pa­tience

Afghanistan’s anti-cor­rup­tion court has held its in­au­gu­ral pub­lic hear­ings in Kabul, the first steps on the long road to trans­parency in one of the most cor­rupt coun­tries in the world - and ex­pec­ta­tions are im­mense. Afghans hope the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Cen­tre against Cor­rup­tion, cre­ated by pres­i­den­tial de­cree, is des­tined to pros­e­cute the rich and pow­er­ful be­hind ma­jor cases of graft. These, ac­cord­ing to anti-cor­rup­tion NGO Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, are nu­mer­ous. Afghanistan is at the very bot­tom of their au­thor­i­ta­tive global rank­ing, along­side North Korea and So­ma­lia.

“It is a very im­por­tant mo­ment that will put an end to im­punity. One hopes to reach the high­est lev­els of the state, to the for­mer min­is­ters and im­por­tant peo­ple who were never held to ac­count un­til now,” says Yama Torabi, chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Com­mit­tee for the Ob­ser­va­tion of Cor­rup­tion. The anti-cor­rup­tion cen­trer, the ful­fil­ment of a prom­ise made by Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity last May, is armed with pros­e­cu­tors, judges and po­lice crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors, and had a war chest of half a mil­lion dol­lars for its first four months. It is headed by a 32-yearold judge, Mo­hammed Alif Ur­fani, who sits in pre­fab­ri­cated of­fices in a heav­ily guarded com­pound be­tween the head­quar­ters of the spe­cial po­lice and the an­tidrug units.

“I see two types of threats: Within the gov­ern­ment, some do not want the cen­ter to work; and the Tal­iban, they do not want the gov­ern­ment to be strong,” he told AFP. A fa­ther of two young chil­dren, Ur­fani is guarded by two sol­diers and one mem­ber of the Afghan in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. “I have not re­ceived any di­rect threats, but this is just the be­gin­ning. The pres­sure will in­evitably in­crease when the big­gest cases are reached,” he says, cit­ing threat­en­ing phone calls re­ceived by po­lice of­fi­cers who ar­rested a three­star gen­eral at the Min­istry of De­fense.

Thirty-five peo­ple, in­clud­ing 14 judges, have been as­signed to the cen­ter, which com­prises a court of first in­stance and a court of ap­peal. “Who­ever they are, they have been checked and cleared,” the spokesman for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jamsheed Ra­sooli told AFP. To date, they have taken 55 cases and 31 sus­pects are be­hind bars, with “five min­istries” in their sights, as well as “the Cen­tral Bank of Afghanistan and the is­su­ing au­thor­ity of iden­tity cards”, he says, but gives no fur­ther de­tails.

Ear­lier this month the court handed down its first sen­tence: Two and a half years in prison for mil­i­tary pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Ab­dul Haye Ju­rat. He was caught red-handed as he pock­eted 50,000 Afgha­nis ($760) from a pris­oner’s fam­ily, de­manded to se­cure the man’s re­lease at the end of his sen­tence. The of­fence ap­pears mi­nor in view of the bil­lion dol­lars di­verted from Kabul Bank in 2010, a mas­sive scan­dal that high­lighted how deep the roots of cor­rup­tion go in Afghanistan - but it is a start. “The sum is small but the ac­cused is a two-star gen­eral,” said Ur­fani. “We proved that we can bring high-rank­ing of­fi­cers to jus­tice.”

“We know that the pop­u­la­tion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity are scru­ti­niz­ing us,” says the young judge, the only per­son in his vil­lage to learn to read and write. To­day his child­hood friends watch when he ap­pears on tele­vi­sion. He re­grets the “im­pa­tience” of Afghans: “Some cases take years: When you want to bring a min­is­ter to jus­tice, you need proof and to ar­rest the peo­ple in­volved. If you go too fast, you will lose.”

At a very high level, wit­nesses fear for their rel­a­tives. “Peo­ple are scared to help us, they fear kid­nap­pings, the mafia is in­side the gov­ern­ment,” he says. The first hear­ings were at­tended by a large num­ber of for­eign ob­servers, in­clud­ing those of the em­bassies which fi­nan­cially sup­port the cen­ter - the United States, the United King­dom and the Nether­lands in par­tic­u­lar.

“This is a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge when it’s about the rich and pow­er­ful... Cor­rup­tion is the ba­sic prob­lem,” the Euro­pean Union am­bas­sador, Franz-Michael Mell­bin, told AFP, re­fer­ring to the many “ghost em­ploy­ees” of the min­istries and even of the army or the po­lice. But both the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the Afghan peo­ple must be re­al­is­tic, he added. “Pre­vi­ously a lot of cases were poorly pre­pared and it was very easy for de­fense lawyers to dis­miss them,” he adds, jus­ti­fy­ing the need to “iso­late the in­sti­tu­tion from the power to let them work and gather the ev­i­dence and build the cases prop­erly”. —AFP

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